Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Ah, so THAT's what you call fraud! 

It's just "alternative historical perspective."
I have received the report of the Investigative Committee of the University of Colorado and consider it a travesty. This "investigation" has all along been a pretext to punish me for engaging constitutionally-protected speech and, more generally, to discredit the sorts of alternative historical perspective I represent.
Eugene Volokh dispenses with this nonsense even before Churchill's raving.
This isn't a criminal prosecution, but the university's decision whether to keep someone on its faculty; it need not keep a dishonest scholar on board, even if the complaints about the scholar were motivated partly by the complainers' hostility to the scholar's viewpoints. And as best I can tell, there's little reason to think that the University wouldn't have investigated Churchill had he been accused of the same misconduct but had expressed diferrent views. These are serious charges, and my guess is that most universities would indeed look into alleged multiple falsification of evidence and plagiarism by their faculty members.
David French agrees. It was noted in the report (as reported in Inside Higher Ed) that the report's authors thought the timing might have been motivated by Churchill's statements after 9/11. Still, that hardly matters. A single mistake of plagiarism is bad enough; this report found several. The only way Churchill can win his threatened lawsuit at this point would be to expose several other cases of plagiarism on campus that the University knowingly ignored. Good luck with that.

For those of you with a fascination about this guy, Pirate Ballerina -- whose blog has been steadily about "The Imam of Indigenism" -- has a link to video of Churchill discussing the report. I admit to spilling a little coffee this morning laughing at it.

It is worth pointing out that the report includes some not-so-oblique criticism of the university for hiring the guy and bringing this thing on themselves, and directs attention at the media (and I suppose bloggers -- perhaps I give us too much credit) for shining light on this whole affair. Some selective quoting:
Thus the decision to hire, and especially to confer continuous tenure on, a faculty member is a deeply consequential one for the University, for by making this decision the University commits itself to the defense of the individual�s work, so long as he or she lives up to the University�s expectations. We believe that the University of Colorado may have made the extraordinary decision to hire Professor Churchill, a charismatic public intellectual with no doctorate and no history of regular faculty membership at a university, to a tenured position without any probationary period in part because at that moment in the institution�s history, it desired the favorable attention his notoriety and following were expected to bring. This notoriety was achieved to some extent by the publication of some of the very essays that have now come under scrutiny because of their scholarly shortcomings. The hiring was, in short, largely the consequence of Professor Churchill�s effectiveness as a polemicist.

In light of the explicit requirements of the Regents� Laws requiring the university to resist outside interference and pressures, it is at least ironic that the Interim Chancellor of the University has now become the formal complainant in this much-publicized proceeding. The University has perhaps gotten more than it bargained for when it made its high-risk decisions about Professor Churchill in the early 1990s, but there is very little about the present situation that is not foreshadowed by developments across the last fifteen years. For us, the indignation now exhibited by some University actors about Professor Churchill�s work appears disingenuous, as they and their predecessors are the ones who decided to hire him.

...The role of the public and press in attacking Professor Churchill is part of a more general opening up of the academic world to wider participation over the past 20 years. Debates that would previously have been conducted within the academic world itself by scholars who worked in a given field are now matters of public knowledge and sometimes of considerable public interest. Everyone is able to express opinions about academic issues by contacting the media, posting ideas on the web or internet, or sending e-mails directly to the scholars involved. While this expansion of discussion has many positive features, it contains some worrying characteristics too. Members of the press have acquired considerable power to advance or harm scholarly reputations, especially for people who frequently appear in public venues and who advocate controversial positions about contemporary issues. Circulation figures rise if news media prepare accounts that grab public attention, sometimes irrespective of complete accuracy. Short news segments do not lend themselves to balanced reports of complex arguments. The ease of posting or sending anonymous statements on the web or e-mail has weakened previous expectations for accuracy and civility in debate over public issues. ...

These changes in communication can have particular impact when an accusation of academic wrongdoing becomes a matter of public interest. People without formal training in a particular field of scholarship are able to assert just as forcefully as specialists that someone has falsified or misused evidence or has offered unwarranted interpretations. In this case, both the University administration and Professor Churchill relied at times on assertions made by �researchers� with no formal qualifications, background, or training about the topics under consideration. ...If any evidence of misconduct is found, scholars who critique accepted views are far more likely to be fired from their jobs�not just reprimanded�than are academics who support familiar interpretations.

The considerations we mention have been very much on our minds as we have considered a recommendation concerning the appropriate sanction for Professor Churchill�s misconduct.
One is left to wonder whether this can explain the lenient recommendations for sactioncs from some of the committee members.

Similar thoughts and more context at ACTA Online.